This new impressionistic, mature coming-of-age tale from feature neophyte Jeremiah Zagar maintains a blissful mood even if elation can suddenly turn saturnine.
The evocative We The Animals may not measure up to the lofty standards of a similarly-themed Moonlight and The Florida Project, but the director infuses his documentary background to disseminate a Terence Malick feel in adapting Justin Torres’s quasi-autobiographical novel.
A delicate, supple look centers on Evan Rosado’s pre-pubescent, reflective Jonah dwelling with two slightly older brothers and their parents in upstate New York in the early 1990s. He cherishes his private, mainly illustrated journal as Zagar takes a non-linear approach in witnessing the affectionate, but noxious relationship of Irish-Italian Ma (Sheila Vand) and Puerto Rican Pops (Raul Castillo) leaving him and his brothers essentially to themselves during an otherwise blithe summer.
The attention to the everyday makes the personable and plaintive resonate whether impersonations and parental role-playing on the phone or going out swimming or lounging in a sun-dappled family room. Barefoot, shirtless boys rollick when the house is without nutriments. Capriciousness and clarity is complemented by the synthesized sounds of Nick Zammuto and the animation of Mark Samsonovich.
Processing this misspent youth with tact includes exposure to many things adult through the grandson of a neighbor (Giovanni Pacciarelli) who draws the attention of Jonah. So, how emotions are escalating in ways that can be overwhelming without ample advice make the anecdotal and what follows sensible. Being in this milieu with an unknown cast, especially a solid find in Rosado, locates its share of bittersweet nostalgia with naturalistic, if occasional pretentious flair.